The Minoans (c.2000-1500 B.C.E.)
The first Greek civilization was that of the Minoans on the island of Crete just south of Greece. Quite clearly, the Minoans were heavily influenced by two older Near Eastern civilizations, Mesopotamia and Egypt, by way of the Cycladic Islands, which formed natural stepping stones for the spread of people from Greece and of civilized ideas from the Middle East. Egyptian influence on the Minoans is especially obvious. Minoan architecture used columns as much as Egyptian architecture did. Minoan art also seems to copy Egyptian art by only showing people in profile, never frontally. Still, the Minoans added their own touches, making their figures much more natural looking than the still figures we find in Egyptian art.
The Mycenaeans (c.1500-ll00 B.C.E.)
were Greeks from the mainland who took advantage of the Minoans' weakened state to conquer Crete and assume Minoan authority of the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. They were a strong and active people who engaged in trade and some piracy over a wide area extending from southern Italy in the west to Troy and the Black Sea in the northeast. We are almost as much in the dark about Mycenaean history and society as we are about the Minoans. We do have some written records in a script called Linear B which concern themselves mainly with official tax records and inventories.
The Rise of Sparta to 500 BCE
No Greek city-state aroused such great interest and respect among other Greeks as Sparta. This was largely because the Spartans did about everything contrary to the way other Greeks did. For example, Sparta had no defenses, claiming its men were its walls. While other Greeks emphasized their individuality with their own personal armor, the Spartans wore red uniforms that masked their individuality and any blood lost from wounds. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we remember Sparta for being a military state always ready for war, but not against other...